Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud, 2012

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Oud perfumes are the new “orientals”.  Like their early 20th century predecessors, their fantasy/reality ratio is sky-high. They are less overtly culturally offensive, but in terms of authenticity, they are just as much a bill of goods.

Francis Kurkdjian avoided the pitfall of attempting to mimic Arabic style. Instead, he treated oud like any other centerpiece note in western traditional perfumery. His Oud has some of the characteristic scent of oud materials, particularly the band-aid note, but the setting is unexpected. Rather than pairing oud with rose, syrup or smoke, Kurkdjian made a sort of woody-floral with a soft oud note. (Though the brand’s list of notes doesn’t include florals.)

Kurkdjian approaches oud as a material rather than a genre. He seems to have given it the same scrutiny he might ambroxan or rosewood, breaking it down into its constituent notes and evaluating the olfactory dynamics, seeing how it interacts with other materials. Some of oud’s traits are underscored, others are played down. By treating it to classical western perfume analysis and technique, Kurkdjian assimilated oud.

In skipping the Arabian fantasy, he avoids the stereotypes of the material. Of the hundreds of oud perfumes to hit the market in the past 5-10 years, not many stray from a narrow interpretation of the material. Kurkdjian took a measured approach and demonstrated his signature talent for composing a perfume that is somewhat unusual but not at all strange. It smells deliciously of shoe polish + lipstick + floor wax. It is cool to the touch and reserved. Kurkdjian aligned oud with patchouli, a material with some similar characteristics, to create a new style of woody-floral perfume. Oud and patchouli are both woody materials that range from pitchy highs to durable, resinous bass ranges. Patchouli’s camphorous chill matches oud’s rubber band-aid note and both share a dusty, woody feel. They don’t smell alike, but the behave similarly.

Classical perfumery has always had a loving appreciation of ‘off’ notes. The most effective materials of traditional perfumery tended to have a stark, asymmetric beauty at their core. Modulating them created a well-proportioned aesthetic that captured the interest and the imagination. Oud is well suited for a similar use—it is idiosyncratic and quintessentially jolie-laide. Kurkdjian didn’t disguise oud, but he did make it his own and proposed a new, western style of oud perfume.

 

(image Scheherazade costume http://www.mycarnivalfantasy.com)

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